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Archive for April, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, Fla./HUDSON FALLS, N.Y. — As World War II came to a close in 1945, a small American tank battalion discovered a train full of Jewish prisoners abandoned in the German countryside. Sixty-five years later, the survivors and liberators were reunited.


At the World War II museum at Camp Blanding, the walls are lined with historical artifacts and articles. “That is my actual uniform,” said Frank Towers.

At 92, Towers volunteers at the museum every week. He shares the stories behind each piece of history, including his own. Towers, a lieutenant at the time, was assigned to the 30th Infantry Division of the United States Army during World War II.

As the war came to a close, the 30th swept through the German countryside, liberating the towns and people held captive by the Nazis.

On April 13, 1945, a tank battalion from the 30th came across the freight train, stopped at the bottom of a hill outside the town of Magdeburg.

“We had never seen any of this torture they were talking about until we came up on this train. Then, of course, we became believers,” said Towers.

Twenty-five hundred Jewish prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were inside the boxcars.

Sick, starved and likely headed to their deaths, twice the number of prisoners were packed into cars, forced to stand on the train for the past six days.

“They were skin and bones. They’d been tortured,” Towers recalls.

During the Holocaust, more than 100,000 Jews died in the Bergen-Belsen Camp alone; a small percentage of the six million who ultimately lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis.

With Allied forces closing in, the Nazis began evacuating Bergen- Belsen to hide evidence of the atrocities committed there. “It was hard to believe anyone would do this to another group of human beings,” Towers said.

As a liaison officer, Towers knew the roads well, and was tasked with transporting the victims. “Out of the battle zone, to safety, food, clothing and shelter,” he said.

The liberators loaded the survivors into trucks and delivered them safely to American military grounds. For Towers, this was just part of the job.

After the war, Frank was assigned to occupation duty in another part of Europe. His wife, Mary, joined him. Later, the couple moved back to the states and eventually settled in Alachua County, outside Gainesville.

Towers didn’t dwell on his war time experiences over the years, he said, though he always felt connected to the people his division helped rescue from the train.

“As one of the [survivors] remarked to me, ‘We were born again. Our life started all over again, for us,'” Towers recalled.

Almost a lifetime later, liberators like Towers are finding out just how much their actions meant.

In late September, a crowd gathered on a high school stage in a small, upstate New York town. A handful of veterans, now close to 90, stood side-by-side with the people they helped save -liberators and survivors united once again.

“It’s a very emotional meeting for all of us.”

This gathering was years in the making. When Hudson Falls High School history teacher Matt Rozell asked his students to interview veterans for a project, the story of the train near Magdeburg was uncovered.

“Each account is absolutely memorable. There’s a common thread through every single one,” Rozell said.

He posted the story on the internet, and survivors – the children and young Jewish people rescued from the train – began contacting him from all over the world, he said.

Carolle Walsh, who lives in Tampa now, was one of the first tank commanders from the 743rd to discover the train.

After a few days’ reunion, he considered the people he helped save to be dear friends.

“It’s sort of become like old friends. Initially coming to the train, how would I ever expect to see anyone who was on the train [again]? At that age and time I would have never considered the fact. So it’s like seeing old friends now,” Walsh said.

They’re grandparents now, Rozell said. “I definitely think there’s a feeling of wanting to know what happened to them.”

Sara Atzmon and her family were part of the Jews of Belgium, rounded up by the Nazis and forced to live in ghettos, then concentration camps.

“I lost 60 persons from my family. Sixty, not 16. My father, my brothers, my grandmother. It’s crazy,” said Atzmon.

She was only 11 when she arrived at Bergen-Belsen. Atzmon remembers being cold all the time. She was given only one child’s shoe; on the other foot she wore a red women’s high-heel.

“We were afraid. Children were not people you explained something to,” she recalled.

For decades, she never knew how to find the words to say thank you to her liberators, her “angels” as she calls them.

“It was an impossible dream,” Steven Barry, who is from Hungary. He was 20 when the Americans freed him from the train.

A member of the Hungarian Army Labor Battalion, he and a comrade were captured as they went underground to escape the Nazis.

His desire to understand his own history led him to Hudson Falls, and Frank Towers. “We kind of hugged, kissed and cried. Because basically, I saw him 65 years ago,” Towers said of the meeting.

Barry agreed.

“Can you imagine an army that landed on D-Day and fought its way through unbelievable conditions, getting shot at and then rescuing 2,500 flea-bitten Jews? I mean if you tell this to somebody, they’ll think you’re lying. It just doesn’t happen. But it did,” he smiled, grasping Towers’ hand in his.

Barry emigrated to the U.S. after World War II, and joined the U.S. Army; he served in the Korean War.

He lives in Boca Raton, Fla., now, and communicates regularly with Towers. The two share a bond not only with each other, but with every Jewish survivor and American liberator on that German hillside in 1945.

“We’ll always be special friends. There’s a bond there that will never be broken. No question about that. It’s something that doesn’t happen every day,” Towers said.

“It’s once in a lifetime, our meeting. It really is,” Barry agreed.

Atzmon and her surviving family members moved to then-Palestine after the war. She joined the Israeli army and got married.

At age 55, she began painting her experiences as a little girl in a Nazi concentration camp.

Today, her work – paintings on giant canvases – hang in galleries all over the world, including a permanent exhibition in Germany.

She travels often, speaking to school-aged children about the Holocaust. “I am very grateful. [The liberators] saved our life. They give life for my family and all people,” she said.

Over the years, Hudson Falls High School students and faculty have recorded more than 100 interviews with veterans and survivors.

The purpose of the project is to preserve the stories and pass them on to future generations, so the Holocaust and the people affected by it are never forgotten.

When Towers returned to Northeast Florida from New York, he received a message from Tampa resident Alex Kopfur. He had seen a television clip of the Hudson Falls reunion and contacted Towers to see if they could meet.

A week later, Kopfur arrived at the Camp Blanding museum with questions. “How many cars were on the train?” he asked Towers, handing him pictures of his mother and father.

“I really don’t know,” Towers replied, showing Alex a registry of camp prisoners.

Kopfur doesn’t remember much about the train; he was only a small Polish child when he and his parents were rescued.

He is thankful to have had the opportunity to meet just one of his liberators.

“I’ve had many arguments with people about why the United States should be overseas. I always say I remember being rescued by American troops overseas, so I can not argue against that,” Kopfur said.

He is one of several who have contacted Towers in the past few months.

“Anything that brings people together like this enriches my life. I feel good about it. To meet Alex, Sara, Fred, and the others… Carolle Walsh, Mr. Barry,” Towers recalled.

On the 65th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, the liberators and survivors continue to make connections.

“The words are too small to say them. What can I tell them? That they give us life? The future? This is the future,” Atzmon said.

In March, several traveled to Nashville for another reunion hosted by the 30th Infantry Division.

Earlier this month, Matt Rozell joined a group of survivors in Washington, D.C., for the National Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony.

While his friends were at the Capitol, Frank Towers returned to Normandy, France, once again to speak to a group of citizens about the rescue of the train prisoners.

http://www.firstcoastnews.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=79170805001#/Part+I%3A+The+Liberators/79170805001

MORE:

To learn more about the Hudson Falls World War II Living History Project, CLICK HERE.

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{As part of the conclusion to my USHMM Teacher Fellowship project, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the camps as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West, sixty-five years to the day that the discovery/event occurred.}

April 15, 1945: Soviet forces are 35 miles east of Berlin and 60 miles east of Dresden, Germany. British troops close on Bremen and Hamburg, Germany.

April 15, 1945: At Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen, Germany, 57,000 inmates–17,000 of them women–are marched westward by the SS. Once under way, many will be shot and/or die of exhaustion, and others, including 21-year-old Mila Racine, will be killed during Allied bomb attacks aimed at nearby targets.

April 15-17, 1945: A small contingent of British troops at the Bergen-Belsen, Germany, camp is unable to prevent Hungarian SS guards from murdering 72 Jewish and 11 non-Jewish prisoners.

April 16, 1945: The Red Army launches its final assault on Berlin.

April 18, 1945: Nazis initiate a death march of prisoners from Schwarzheide, Germany, to Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia.

April 19, 1945: Leipzig, Germany, is captured by American forces.

Weber, Louis. The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2007. http://www.holocaustchronicle.org

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World War II Soldiers Who Liberated Nazi Death Camps Meet at Holocaust Museum

Jerome Socolovsky | Washington16 April 2010

Matthew Rozell and survivor Steve Barry honored before 121 liberators in Washington, DC just before Rotunda ceremony on April 16th.

More than 100 former U.S. soldiers who liberated Nazi death camps during World War II were honored this week in Washington, D.C. The veterans recalled the horrors they witnessed 65 years ago when they encountered the victims of the Holocaust.

The flags of their wartime divisions lined the U.S. Capitol rotunda for the ceremony to honor the old soldiers. And Army General David Petraeus paid them a tribute. “Just as the horrors of the death camps will never be forgotten, neither will your courage, selflessness, or compassion,” he said.

These men, known as “The Liberators”, were among the first witnesses of one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century, the concentration camps where six million Jews were systematically slaughtered.

Much of what they did is commemorated at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. They toured the museum before the ceremony.

One of the liberators, George Sherman, 84, was a young Jewish soldier at the time of the war, fighting in the U.S. Army’s 11th Armored Division. In early May 1945, his squadron [???] left Linz in Austria on its way east to join forces with the Russians.

But as Sherman’s reconnaissance unit left the city, they caught wind of something terrible. “Within a kilometer or two of leaving we started to smell an odor which we couldn’t identify which was really strong.” So he and his buddies followed the stench and found stockades with barbed wire and prisoners wandering all over the place.

“Inside the gates there were just piles of bodies stacked up and mainly people coming out of what turned out to be their barracks, in the worst physical conditions, skeletons, a lot of the things they were wearing were just rags,” Sherman said.

The soldiers of his division were welcomed as heroes at the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Sherman’s wife Marcia accompanied him on the museum tour. She says it brought back memories he’s never talked about before.

“The ovens were still hot, because the Germans, they’re methodical,” Sherman said. “Right up to the last minute. You’d think they would try to get away and whatnot. No, right up to the last minute they were trying to kill as many as they could kill.”

What angers Sherman now is when people try to deny the Holocaust.

“How they can in the face of all the evidence, that has been carefully documented and authenticated, how they can deny this? It’s unbelievable,” he said.

The Holocaust museum documents the genocide and the testimony of the aging survivors.

One of them is Steve Barry, now 85 years old. He was on a train crammed with prisoners and still remembers the day he saw his American liberators.

“I don’t think the word has been invented yet, of how I felt,” Barry said.

He said he owes those liberators his life. But one he met disagreed.

“And he said, ‘You know, you don’t owe me or us anything. This whole world owes you everything, because what they took away from you, no one can give back to you anymore.'”

But the liberators did get something here in Washington. Gen. Petreaus honored each with a medal.

When Petraeus saw Sherman and his wartime buddies, he walked up to them and said, “Did you get a coin? Ok, you’re good to go!”

The aging vets posed for a photo with general at the Holocaust museum, where the flags of their old divisions hang permanently above the entrance hall. The men stood proud, once more, for what they fought for 65 years ago.

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This morning, a live broadcast from the Rotunda where we honor the sacrifice of soldiers who, 65 years ago, liberated Jews and other victims from Nazi terror. What they did mattered then, and what we do matters now. Peter Fredlake, USHMM.

http://www.ushmm.org/remembrance/dor/webcast/

The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust and created the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a permanent living memorial to the victims. This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day is Sunday, April 11, 2010. In commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, the Museum has designated Stories of Freedom: What You Do Matters as the theme for the 2010 observance.

Inmates waving a homemade American flag greet 7th Army troops upon their arrival at the Allach concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau, April 30, 1945.

Inmates waving a homemade American flag greet 7th Army troops upon their arrival at the Allach concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau, April 30, 1945. USHMM, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

As Allied soldiers were closing in on Germany in the spring of 1945, they encountered dozens of concentration camps and were suddenly confronted with the reality of Nazi atrocities. The few surviving victims fully experienced the depths of human evil and depravity. For the soldiers, however, even the brutality of war did not prepare them for what they encountered.

Upon seeing Buchenwald, a member of the 333rd Engineers Regiment stated, “My feeling was that this was the most shattering experience of my life.” A U.S. Army chaplain trying to make sense of the carnage wrote to his wife, “This was a hell on earth if there ever was one.” After photographing Buchenwald, Margaret Bourke-White wrote to her editor at Life magazine, “The sights I have just seen are so unbelievable that I don’t think I will believe them myself until I’ve seen the photographs.” One American journalist wrote, “Buchenwald is beyond all comprehension. You just can’t understand it, even when you’ve seen it.”

And that was the problem. Survivors and other eyewitnesses understood and believed. But would the world? General Dwight D. Eisenhower grasped this problem and, after visiting a subcamp of Buchenwald, he addressed his staff: “I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place. We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least he will know what he is fighting against.”

Eisenhower not only understood that this was a war that at its very essence was a struggle for the freedom of peoples and the ideals on which civilization is based but also that the horror was so extreme that it might not be believed. Realizing that a failure to believe would be a danger for the future of mankind, he ordered other soldiers to visit the camps, and encouraged journalists and members of Congress and the British Parliament to bear witness as well. He wanted others to be, just as he was, “in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’” And ultimately he was right.

Sixty-four years later, standing at Buchenwald with Elie Wiesel by his side, President Barack Obama acknowledged the value of bearing witness: “We are here today because this work is not finished. To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened—a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.”

President Obama referred to the Holocaust as “our history,” understanding that Holocaust memory belongs to all of humanity. Because unlike the battle-hardened soldiers who liberated the camps and brought freedom to Europe, we now know that the unthinkable is thinkable. We know all too well the human capacity for evil and the catastrophic consequences of indifference in the face of evil. And we now realize that to preserve human freedom, what we do matters. Every day each of us has the potential to shape the world in which we live. By keeping these stories of freedom alive and building on Elie Wiesel’s original hope, each of us must work to promote human dignity and confront hate whenever and wherever it occurs. As the American soldiers who unwittingly became liberators 65 years ago understood, our future depends on it. -USHMM

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It is April 13th, the 65th anniversary of the liberation. In the past two days I have heard from a half-dozen “new” survivors. My wife Laura and I are headed to Washington DC to take part in the National Days of Remembrance ceremonies. You can click here for the link to our film (“Honoring Liberation” at page bottom) and more information on the ceremony.

UPDATE: 4-14: At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday, my wife and I had the honor of being addressed, along with 120 liberators, survivors and donors, by Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner on the human right issues facing our nation and the world today.

The United States Congress established our Days of Remembrance (April 11-18) as our nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Hudson Falls High School is the ONLY high school in the nation represented at it.

Tonight we will have dinner with the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. On Thursday morning, Hudson Falls High School will be honored at a special breakfast honoring liberators. Following that, special ticket holders(me, etc) will be allowed into the US Capitol Rotunda for the climatic event of the Days of Remembrance. The keynote speaker will be General David Petraeus. I will be there representing our school.

If you go to this website, you can see details about how to tune in.

http://www.ushmm.org/remembrance/dor/
And read below the moving narrative of Dr. George C. Gross, his remembrance of the liberation day, written 9 years ago, before he was aware of any of the survivors. He got to know quite a few before he passed on Feb. 1, 2009. Greetings to all the survivors on the day of your rebirth, and to the soldiers who, in “just doing our jobs”, saved the world.

A Train Near Magdeburg

{As part of the conclusion to my USHMM Teacher Fellowship project, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the camps as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West, sixty-five years to the day that the discovery/event occurred.}

Foreword:

Excerpt from Wayne Robinson, Move out Verify: the Combat Story of the 743rd Tank Battalion (Germany, no publisher, 1945), 162-63:

There was another sidelight to the death of fascism in Europe.  Only a few of the battalion saw it.  Those who did will never forget it.

A few miles northwest of Magdeburg there was a railroad siding in wooded ravine not far from the Elbe River. Major Clarence Benjamin in a jeep was leading a small task force of two light tanks from Dog Company on a routine job of patrolling. The unit came upon some 200 shabby looking civilians by the side of the road.  There was something immediately apparent about each one of these people, men and women, which arrested the attention. Each one of them was skeleton thin with starvation, a sickness in their faces and the way in which they stood-and there was something else.  At the sight of Americans they began laughing in joy-if it could be called laughing.  It was an outpouring of pure, near-hysterical relief.

The tankers soon found out why.  The reason was found at the railroad siding.

There they came upon a long string of grimy, ancient boxcars standing silent on the tracks.  In the banks by the tracks, as if to get some pitiful comfort from the thin April sun, a multitude of people of all shades of misery spread themselves in a sorry, despairing tableaux  [sic]. As the American uniforms were sighted, a great stir went through this strange camp. Many rushed toward the Major’s jeep and the two light tanks.

Bit by bit, as the Major found some who spoke English, the story came out.

This had been-and was-a horror train.  In these freight cars had been shipped 2500 people, jam-packed in like sardines, and they were people that had two things in common, one with the other:  They were prisoners of the German State and they were Jews.

These 2500 wretched people, starved, beaten, ill, some dying, were political prisoners who had until a few days before been held at concentration camp near Hanover.  When the Allied armies smashed through beyond the Rhine and began slicing into central Germany, the tragic2500 had been loaded into old railroad cars-as many as 68 in one filthy boxcar-and brought in a torturous journey to this railroad siding by the Elbe.  They were to be taken still deeper into Germany beyond the Elbe when German trainmen got into an argument about the route and the cars had been shunted onto the siding.  Here the tide of the Ninth Army’s rush had found them.

They found it hard to believe they were in friendly hands once more: they were fearful that the Germans would return.  They had been guarded by a large force of SS troopers, most of whom had disappeared in the night. Major Benjamin, knowing there were many German Army stragglers still in the area, left one of the light tanks there with its accompanying doughboys as a protective guard.  The Major then returned to Division headquarters to report the plight of these people.

For 24 hours, the crew of the tank remained on watch as their charges streamed about the vehicle, crying and laughing their thanks of rescue, and those who could told stories of slavery, oppression, torture, imprisonment, and death.  To hear their stories, to see before them the results of inhuman treatment lifted still another corner of the cover which, on being removed, exposed the full cruel spirit of Nazism which permitted such things to be. And this was but one of the many such stories being brought to light as Allied soldiers ripped into the secrets of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.

The train needed some badly needed food that night.  More, the promise of plentiful food the next day was given to them.  The commanding officer of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion was seeing to it that such food would be available.  He had ordered German farmers of the surrounding towns to stay up all night, if necessary, to get food to these people.  Other Americans concerned themselves with locating living quarters to get the concentration camp victims away from the evil-smelling freight cars before more of them died and were covered by a blanket or just left lying in their last sleep beside the railroad tracks.

Sgt. George Gross (relayed to Matthew Rozell, March, 2002):

On Friday, April 13, 1945, I was commanding a light tank in a column of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division, moving south near the Elbe River toward Magdeburg, Germany. After three weeks of non-stop advancing with the 30th from the Rhine to the Elbe as we alternated spearhead and mop-up duties with the 2nd Armored Division, we were worn out and in a somber mood because, although we knew the fighting was at last almost over, a pall had been cast upon our victories by the news of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  I had no inkling of the further grim news that morning would bring. Suddenly, I was pulled out of the column, along with my buddy Sergeant Carrol Walsh in his light tank, to accompany Major Clarence L. Benjamin of the 743rd in a scouting foray to the east of our route.  Major Benjamin had come upon some emaciated Finnish soldiers who had escaped from a train full of starving prisoners a short distance away. The major led our two tanks, each carrying several infantrymen from the 30th Infantry Division on its deck, down a narrow road until we came to a valley with a small train station at its head and a motley assemblage of passenger compartment cars and boxcars pulled onto a siding.  There was a mass of people sitting or lying listlessly about, unaware as yet of our presence. There must have been guards, but they evidently ran away before or as we arrived, for I remember no firefight.  Our taking of the train, therefore, was no great heroic action but a small police operation.  The heroism that day was all with the prisoners on the train.

Major Benjamin took a powerful picture just as a few of the people became aware that they had been rescued.  It shows people in the background still lying about, trying to soak up a bit of energy from the sun, while in the foreground a woman has her arms flung wide and a great look of surprise and joy on her face as she rushes toward us.  In a moment, that woman found a pack left by a fleeing German soldier, rummaged through it, and held up triumphantly a tin of rations.  She was immediately attacked by a swarm of skeletal figures, each intent upon capturing that prize. My yelling did no good, so that I finally had to leap from my tank and wade through weak and emaciated bodies to pull the attackers off the woman, who ran quickly away with her prize.  I felt like a bully, pushing around such weak and starving fellow humans, but it was necessary to save the woman from great harm.  The incident drove home to me the terrible plight of the newly freed inhabitants of the train.

I pulled my tank up beside the small station house at the head of the train and kept it there as a sign that the train was under American protection now.  Carroll Walsh’s tank was soon sent back to the battalion, and I do not remember how long the infantrymen stayed with us, though it was a comfort to have them for a while. My recollection is that my tank was alone for the afternoon and night of the 13th.  A number of things happened fairly quickly.  We were told that the commander of the 823rd Tank Destroyer battalion had ordered all the burgermeisters of nearby towns to prepare food and get it to the train promptly, and were assured that Military Government would take care of the refugees the following day. So we were left to hunker down and protect the starving people, commiserating with if not relieving their dire condition.

I believe that the ranking officer of the Finnish prisoners introduced himself to me and offered to set up a perimeter guard. I think I approved and asked him to organize a guard, set out pickets, and handle the maintenance and relief of the outposts. However it happened, the guard was set up swiftly and efficiently. It was moving and inspiring to see how smartly those emaciated soldiers returned to their military duties, almost joyful at the thought of taking orders and protecting others again.  They were armed only with sticks and a few weapons discarded by the fleeing German guards, but they made a formidable force, and they obviously knew their duties, so that I could relax and talk to the people. A young woman named Gina Rappaport came up and offered to be my interpreter. She spoke English very well and was evidently conversant with several other languages besides her native Polish.  We stood in front of the tank as along line of men, women, and little children formed itself spontaneously, with great dignity and no confusion, to greet us.  It is a time I cannot forget, for it was terribly moving to see the courtesy with which they treated each other, and the importance they seemed to place on reasserting their individuality in some seemingly official way.  Each would stand at a position of rigid attention, held with some difficulty, and introduce himself or herself by what grew to be a sort of formula:  the full name, followed by “a Polish Jew from Hungary”-or a similar phrase which gave both the origin and the home from which the person had been seized.  Then each would shake hands in a solemn and dignified assertion of individual worth. Battle-hardened veterans learn to contain their emotions, but it was difficult then, and I cry now to think about it. What stamina and regenerative spirit those brave people showed!

Also tremendously moving were their smiles.  I have one picture of several girls, specter-thin, hollow-cheeked, with enormous eyes that had seen much evil and terror, and yet with smiles to break one’s heart.  Little children came around with shy smiles, and mothers with proud smiles happily pushed them forward to get their pictures taken.  I walked up and down the train seeing some lying in pain or lack of energy, and some sitting and making hopeful plans for a future that suddenly seemed possible again. Others followed everywhere I went, not intruding but just wanting to be close to a representative of the forces that had freed them.  How sad it was that we had no food to give immediately, and no medical help, for during my short stay with the train sixteen or more bodies were carried up the hillside to await burial, brave hearts having lost the fight against starvation before we could help them.

The boxcars were generally in very bad condition from having been the living quarters of far too many people, and the passenger compartments showed the same signs of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.  But the people were not dirty.  Their clothes were old and often ragged, but they were generally clean, and the people themselves had obviously taken great pains to look their best as they presented themselves to us.  I was told that many had taken advantage of the cold stream that flowed through the lower part of the valley to wash themselves and their clothing.  Once again I was impressed by the indomitable spirits of these courageous people.

I spent part of the afternoon listening to the story of Gina Rappaport, who had served so well as interpreter.  She was in the Warsaw ghetto for several years as the Nazis gradually emptied the ghetto to fill the death camps, until her turn finally came.  She was taken to Bergen-Belsen, where the horrible conditions she described matched those official accounts I later heard.  She and some 2500 others, Jews from all over Europe, Finnish prisoners of war, and others who had earned the enmity of Nazidom, were forced onto the train and taken on a back-and-forth journey across Germany, as their torturers tried to get them to a camp where they could be eliminated before Russians on one side or Americans on the other caught up with them. Since the prisoners had little food, many died on the purposeless journey, and they had felt no cause for hope when they were shunted into this little unimportant valley siding.  Gina told her story well, but I have never been able to write it.  I received a letter from her months later, when I was home in San Diego.   I answered it but did not hear from her again.  Her brief letter came from Paris, and she had great hopes for the future.  I trust her dreams were realized.

We were relieved the next morning, started up the tank, waved good-bye to our new friends, and followed a guiding jeep down the road to rejoin our battalion.  I looked back and saw a lonely Gina Rappaport standing in front of a line of people waving us good fortune.  On an impulse I cannot explain, I stopped the tank, ran back, hugged Gina, and kissed her on the forehead in a gesture I intended as one asking forgiveness for man’s terrible cruelty and wishing her and all the people a healthy and happy future. I pray they have had it.

George C. Gross

Spring Valley, California

June 3, 2001

click here for the ANNOTATED PHOTOGRAPHS

LISTEN to Carrol Walsh and George Gross share their recollections of the liberation of “A Train Near Magdeburg” (9:32)

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{As part of the conclusion to my USHMM Teacher Fellowship project, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the camps as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West, sixty-five years to the day that the discovery/event occurred.}

American troops inspect the site of the Gardelegen atrocity. In the background, German civilians exhume corpses who were buried in a mass grave by the SS. Germany, April 18, 1945. — Courtesy of John Irving Malachowski; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

April 13, 1945: Death marchers from the small labor camp of Rottleberode, a subcamp of Dora-Mittelbau, are driven to the outskirts of Gardelegen, Germany, which they had reached two days before. The just over 1000 prisoners are herded by SS guards and members of the local militia into a barn, which has been prepared as an execution site. As the last prisoners are pushed into the barn, the SS guards throw torches onto the gasoline-soaked straw and lock the doors. Those prisoners who are not killed by the smoke and fire are shot by the SS as they try to escape. Only a few of the prisoners survive.


April 9, 1945: The concentration camp at Dora-Mittelbau, Germany, is liberated by the U.S. Army. Very few inmates remain alive.

April 10, 1945: SS functionary Adolf Eichmann visits the Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, camp/ghetto to gloat over the many Jews who have perished there.

April 11, 1945: American troops liberate the concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany; 21,000 inmates are still alive. In the Pathology Block (Block 2), GIs discover tanned and tattooed human skin.

April 11, 1945: The U.S. Infantry and 3rd Armored divisions liberate the concentration/slave-labor camp at Nordhausen, Germany.

April 11, 1945: Inmates at the Aschersleben, Germany, camp are evacuated by the SS to Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia.

April 12, 1945: U.S. Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, and Omar Bradley visit the camp at Ohrdruf, Germany, and view corpses and other evidence of Nazi atrocities.

April 12, 1945: U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt dies. Vice-president Harry S. Truman becomes president.

April 13, 1945: Soviet troops enter Vienna.

Weber, Louis. The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2007. http://www.holocaustchronicle.org

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Hilde Huppert’s Hand in Hand with Tommy is one of the earliest factual accounts of the Holocaust, written in autumn 1945. Huppert describes with piercing objectivity her harrowing experiences as a mother with her little son in prison, in the Rzeszow Ghetto, and in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Twenty editions of the book have been published, in German, Czech, Dutch, Hebrew, and Arabic.

April 7, 2010

Dear dear Matthew, Thank you for all what you do for us. If before I was ashamed to be included in the group of survivors now I happy to belong, because I realized that it takes a great deal to go through hell and come out of it as a normal functioning person. I am proud now to belong because we are all living proof to a greatness of the human spirit, in spite the evil and cruelty of some. I am speechless to stand in front people like you all, who get out from their everyday life to bring light and hope to people who they never met, and remind the world that evil is exist but cannot be tolerated, and can not be forgotten, they will be always someone there to remind it. I myself was thinking all these years in terms of, better not to talk about it, better take it with you. I know now that I was wrong. Yes I want to remember, I want to remember to my last day the women that I don’t remember their faces, but they were there,and  in the most horrific circumstances they took care for a baby from the age of two to the age of five and kept her alive. I want to remember the woman – Hilde Hupert, who took from the train all the way to Palestine together with group of Children that she have organized, and that is another story. And the biggest realization is that we are never alone in the world and yes, there is a goodness. I would like very much to commemorate and put up the names of my parents Lidia and Jan Kazimierski and all the rest of the family which been killed and vanished from the face of the earth. I didn’t know them I don’t know how many of them were exist, but I feel that they have to be mentioned somewhere. Please if you can do it for me I will be very grateful.

Bless you Matthew Rozell

Lily

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